Last December 15, most train travel in Germany became less expensive. Although some short routes saw as much as a 10% increase, ticket prices for routes longer than 180 kilometers (112 miles) dropped as much as 25%.

The bigger change, however, is in discounts for advance purchase, which apply to both long and short routes. Under the Plan und Spar (Plan and Save) program, you can reserve a seat one day in advance and receive a 10% discount off one-way and round-trip fares. For three days in advance, the discount increases to 25% but requires a round-trip purchase. For seven days, the discount is 40% but requires both a round-trip purchase and a weekend stay.

Two caveats: First, change penalties are as high as E45 ($48) but don't apply to missed connections. Second, although German Rail says the supply will be sufficient, the number of discount seats available is limited on any given train.

Up to four individuals traveling (and reserving) with the primary passenger receive a further 50% discount, whether or not they are family members. And children up to 14 years old traveling with their parents ride for free (the limit had been 11).

German Rail has also reduced the cost of its BahnCard (a frequent traveler card program) from E140 ($151) to E60 ($65) in second class and from E280 ($301) to E150 ($161) in first class. The card is good for one year. Since BahnCard holders receive an additional 25% discount, it's a worthwhile purchase for anyone planning to spend more than E560 ($602) in second class travel or more than E600 ($645) in first class travel over the course of a year. BahnCard holders also receive 25% off travel in Austria and Switzerland.

With the new price structure, it's important to consider all discounts when deciding whether to purchase German Rail or other passes.

For more information, go to the German Rail Website and select International Guests, where you can review plan details, check timetables and purchase advance tickets.

Rail Passes

The above changes are related to individual rail tickets purchased in Germany and have no bearing on the cost of German Rail passes sold in the U.S. The price for these, incidentally, remains the same as in 2002. One of the best rail bargains around is the second class German Rail Twin Pass (two persons traveling together), which offers per person, per day travel throughout Germany for from $24 to $34 depending on the number of days of travel purchased. First-class passes cost from $34 to $49 per day.